This past Saturday night, during homecoming weekend, my friends and I were going down to the commons to get some food. Two of us had been studying for a prelim we had on Monday, so we were pretty tired. I had actually forgotten that it was homecoming weekend due to my own amount of stress and other reasons that made me not want to actively participate in this weekend’s festivities. A big reminder I had was when my friends and I saw a group of people in the distance, stumbling and talking very loudly. When we got closer, I could see that the entire group was white and one of them, was wearing a sombrero. They even had an empty bottle of beer in their back pocket and it looked like they were all headed home after a party. It’s easy to assume that I was angry as a result of having to be subjected to this.
This wasn’t even the first time I had seen a white person visibly drunk and walking to/from a party in a sombrero in the past two weeks alone, but I was still angry. I’m not Mexican, but as a Latinx person I am able to see how this hurts a community that I care about and ultimately affects all of those that identify as Latinx. The person I saw Saturday night was using the sombrero as a prop, as something “fun” to wear while partying. Their understanding of the sombrero’s cultural context is questionable and their understanding of how they are disrespecting an entire community is even more questionable.
For them as a white person, it’s cute and probably funny in the context of this past week’s incident, which I’ll address later, but they can take off that hat and they don’t have to walk around with the identity and oppression that it’s tied to. This is just one specific example of microaggressions that Mexicans/Xicanxs/Latinxs are subjected to that makes just existing, especially on this predominantly white campus, difficult. There have been more verbalized acts of microaggressions towards Latinxs this school year that makes acts like walking around in a sombrero even more difficult to stomach. For instance, I was at a party with some of my friends, we’re all Latinx/Xicanxs, and some white person said to another white person that “Mexicans are terrorists,” within earshot of me and my friends. It wasn’t said to us, but was said around us and obviously led to us feeling angry and uncomfortable for the rest of the night. Even if it was intended as a joke, which I don’t think it was, it’s definitely not funny. As microaggressions, these actions cause a certain kind of pain for the community, but are uncomparable to much more violent acts of racism and anti-blackness that occur everyday.
Finally, we get to the incident last week that I had referred to earlier. On Tuesday, September 20, a Cornell Football coach posted pictures of two Cornell football players wearing sombreros to Twitter. Along with the images, the tweet said “Eman & Fosta! THE BIG SOMBRERO!” In the images, there are two white football players wearing a sombrero posted by their white football coach. The original tweet has since been deleted and the coach who posted it has apologized. It was an awful thing that happened, but what made it worse was that the official Cornell University Twitter retweeted it. A Twitter account that has 170,000 followers and is meant to serve as a representation of the university retweeted an image in which an aspect of Mexican culture was being used as a prop, as something “fun” to encourage the football players. It definitely demonstrates Cornell’s attitude towards its students of color and the “diversity issues” we are constantly facing.
Personally, I’m upset that there has been no form of public acknowledgement on the part Cornell Football or Cornell University’s administration. It appears that whenever something terrible is done, the university tries to sweep it under the rug so that it will eventually blow over and the student body will get over it. They are really happy to reach out on a personal basis, which is still important and necessary, but never bring these issues to the campus community’s attention, or at least in a way that brings in those that need to be participating in these discussions. We are handled privately because if it were done publicly it would reflect negatively on the university’s image and no one really cares. Clearly previous methods of handling situations such as this tweet aren’t functioning or else this wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t be typing furiously about it. Back in 2013, something similar happened with Cornell Football when they attempted to promote their football game on October 5 by entitling the event “Cinco de Octubre.” That was a more severe case that included encouragement for people to wear their best “Mexican costumes” and other stereotypically racist gestures. I’ve been told that there were follow ups to that incident, including some kind of sensitivity or diversity training for the football team. If there wasn’t then there definitely should have been.That was only three years ago, so there are probably people still on the football team that went through that experience, making it clear that nothing really changed if no one said anything about the use of the sombrero.
Aside from that whole bureaucratic mess, the comments on a post made by MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) where the student organization posted a screenshot of the tweet and said “Cornell University who manages your Twitter page?” It was a pretty simple post with a simple question, but instantly some were saying that the people who run the page and those who were commenting on the post were too sensitive and should get over it. There were so many comments that were rude and often made no sense. It was clear that they were made by people who were upset by others saying that this was wrong. Those who were defending the use of the sombrero were ironically “too sensitive” to handle being called out on for doing something that isn’t okay. Another scary aspect of this is how people were completely ignoring the feelings of certain members of a community. If someone in a community is okay with something happening, that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with that idea. If someone is clearly hurt by something, then those feelings should be respected instead of causing people to lash out.
I didn’t go to homecoming activities this weekend because I didn’t want to support a team or institution that continuously disrespects a specific community. Despite that, I still had to witness this in a completely different situation because it is apparent that people on this campus still do not understand what’s wrong with actions like wearing a sombrero when you’re not of Mexican descent. I’m sure everyone is annoyed and tired of hearing this and I’m really sure that people are tired of saying it. So why am I bringing any of this up? It’s just a hat. Why am I overreacting? Who am I to ruin a person’s fun? I’m not even Mexican, so why do I care? A thrilling summary of comments already said in relation to this issue and the comments yet to have been posted on this column. You’re only making these comments because I’m telling you something isn’t okay and you’re evidently not willing to listen.
Sarah Zumba is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.